Sound! Euphonium has been an interesting ride as a series. The first season seemed like it could go either way but turned out fairly strong with some really strong character moments with a nice mix of drama and comedy. Kumiko and Reina’s growth is compelling and heartwarming and the supporting cast rarely overstays their welcome. Sapphire and Hazuki are particularity adorable supporting characters. There are some flaws but overall it was compelling.
The second season was a bit more of a mixed bag. When they focused on the characters from the first season everything went along swimmingly. Digging into fan-favorite characters like Asuka Tanaka provided some greater depth to the cast. When the story centered around Mizore and Nozomi everything seemed to be moving through molasses with Kumiko mostly being an observer until the end. If anything the main problem seemed to be when the series got hung up on minor characters it always dragged things down. Overall the main story-line triumphed even if the more tedious parts made it weaker than the first season. The second season ended at a place would easily have concluded the series but also left it open for more adventures.
The thing about the Mizore and Nozomi is it almost felt like a back door pilot for a series about them. Considering that the Liz and the Blue Bird movie is all about them it might have been an attempt at creating a side series. I did not watch that movie but considering it is a companion piece to the main movie I will probably seek it out if and when it comes to home video. In retrospect, considering how much I felt that their arc dragged in the TV series it might have , been a better medium to have their story in a more compact form like a movie. I guess they just burned me enough that I did not even think about that.
So now with the Liz and the Blue Bird parts are taken out of the story of Kumiko and Reina adventures I was curious to see how well Kyoto Animation could fit a new year of the saga of the Kitauji High School Concert Band Club into a single movie.
Last year was a mixture of joy and sadness for the members of the Kitauji High School Concert Band Club. While they made it to Nationals they only got the bronze prize. So with many of their veteran members graduating it is up to the freshman class to fill the hole in their roster. Now that Kumiko is a junior she finds herself with a far greater amount of responsibility. The new freshmen have a distinct sense of energy and skill they also bring along some major drama and hubris. Having come so close to victory can the Concert Band Club surpass their previous accomplishments or will the new disharmony in the band set them back to the way they used to be.
There is one simple feeling one gets from the Sound! Euphonium The Movie. They tried to cram a whole season of story into a movie and it suffers for that. Even taking out the Liz and the Blue Bird sections makes it merely manageable as opposed to muddled but even then it feels like a slightly rushed compilation movie more than a proper full narrative. It is not the utter train wreck like some of the worst Gundam compilation movies. I always knew what was happening but some parts feel like they are given the minimum lip service so you know the general arc of certain characters but all the subtle details are sacrificed for the sake of time.
The best example of this is everything with Motomu Tsukinaga. He is introduced as a freshman contrabass player who is skilled but has a bit of a chip on his shoulder especially when it comes to his name. Also, he thinks that Kanade Hisaishi is a total trash human but we will get to why he 1000% right in a bit. Now, this guy has an arc int the movie if your paying attention but it is easy to miss because he does not get that many scenes. He gets a crush on Sapphire who seems to like him as well, we learn his spiky attitude comes from the fact that his grandfather is a famous conductor, and then he integrates himself into the band.
The problem is for a character that is supposed to be a new main character that is all we are getting. If he were some super minor character this small blink and you miss it story development would be fine and mostly there for the observant. But as a new main character, it is practically inexcusable. We never really learn why his famous grandfather gives him such a bad attitude merely that his bad attitude stems from his grandfather. It this were a whole season I’m sure that this would be a detailed B-plot but in the movie, it is barely a D-plot. We never even get a conclusive hint of why he hates Kanade but considering what I will say about her later you can make inferences. It is just an odd thing to leave out especially considering the amount of attention paid to Kanade in general.
Also, the fact that Gotou and Nagase finally started dating is brought up literally in the background of a scene. I’m hardly some huge Gotou and Nagase fanboy but you know you’re trying to stuff 10-pounds of material into a 5-pound bag when you have to do something like that.
So let’s talk about Kanade Hisaishi. For better or worse she is a large focus of this movie so how much she works determines much of how all of this will play with anyone watching this. Kanade shyly joins the band as a new Euphonium player and becomes Kumiko’s de facto right-hand lady. The thing is, and I don’t say this lightly, she is sort of evil. This is not accidental. She is supposed to come off as affable but slightly … wrong and then as the series goes on you learn about her damage. She is not supposed to be a lovable character who comes off poorly. She is pretty much the villain of the movie.
After we saw the movie Kate’s first comment about her was, “Was I the only one who was worried that Kanade was going to skin someone in the band and wear them like a suit?” My reply was, “I was mostly just wondering when the series went down such a supernatural path because she is the Devil.”
The interesting thing is Kanade has a very realistically villainous personality. She is a banal, subtle, and even easily ignorable evil. She does not have some grand Snidely Whiplash plan to destroy the Kitauji High School Concert Band Club or overthrow Kumiko. She is just a toxic person whose poisonous effect is not apparent at first. If anything I think Carl of Ogiue Maniax but it best when he said that Kanade is pretty much the dark mirror version of Kumiko. If Kumiko reluctantly gets involved in people’s lives so she can help them overcome whatever trauma is holding them back then Kanade subtly gets involved with people so she can steamroller them into what she needs for the band to be successful and she does not give a damn who gets hurt in the process. She adds a very different dynamic to the series which may not be everyone’s cup of tea.
The main complaint we had after watching the movie was that while the new character Kanade has this big character arc the actual main characters of Kumiko and Reina seem mostly unchanged. When I was thinking about how I was going to structure this review I realized that was not 100% accurate. Now overall Reina is criminally underused in the movie. I think that Hazuki and Sapphire get more screen time and plot than her. I like both of them but that is just madness. Reina always plays second fiddle to Kumiko when it came to the focus of the plot but making her a minor character is just bizarre. I have to assume going forward this will be remedied but it just feels wrong.
The thing is in reflection I cannot say the same thing about Kumiko. The thing is it is also very easy to miss because it is not a complete character arc. It is only the setup for a character arc that is supposed to bloom in the next movie/season. The problem is that the mixture of the rushed nature of the film, the focus on Kanade, and the fact that is is only the seeds of a much larger character arc make it easy to miss.
Kumiko starts the series mostly a girl with no real passions or plans for her life. She is happy enough and generally outgoing but otherwise very much just passing her days with nothing but empty routine. She then regains a passion for music thanks to the nearly demonically driven Reina. The problem is that while Reina all but has her life up to the grave planned out before her Kumiko has only figured out the here and now. She knows what she wants to do with herself in terms of High School and the Kitauji High School Concert Band Club but beyond that, the old listless Kumiko is still more present than it would first appear. Her character arc is going to be about her learning to carry this passion and energy that she has discovered outside of school.
If I were to guess Reina’s arc would be more about learning to deal with her plans not going exactly as she envisions them. As a counterpoint to Kumiko, it would appear that maybe Reina has too much of an uncompromising and intense life path. I have a feeling that all of this would have been far more apparent if the story had time to breathe. As it stands I actually to sit back and piece this all together. I get the feeling this is not a deliberate choice to have the reader find the themes for themselves. This seems more an accident thanks to poorly planned plotting when condensing the story.
Before I make it seem like there is nothing to enjoy about this film I will mention that it looks and sound marvelous. Sound! Euphonium has always had that Kyoto Animation level of luscious amounts of slice of life animation that always looks breathtaking. The movie merely exemplifies that feeling. But it is even better because one of the major criticisms you could have with the original TV series is that for a series about the music they don’t have that many big music scenes. They certainly exist but you could tell that most of them time Kyoto Animation avoided animating the smaller ones so they could focus on the big ones. The set-piece performances always felt nice but they also always felt a little short. In the movie they really let the music pieces explode. The big performance at the end especially stands out since they give it time to breathe and let you sink into the piece. It is what you always wanted in the TV series and a little more.
I enjoyed Sound! Euphonium movie but it was distinctly a very flawed adaptation. I was very curious to see the further adventures of the Kitauji High School Concert Band Club and in that respect, I was not disappointed but I wanted the full story, not just the Cliff Notes. The amount of narrative needed to stretch itself out for a TV series or at least a medium-length OVA. Too much of the overall story got lost in the compression to feel complete. This is not the type of series to get a remake anytime soon but I hope going forward they can give any more Sound! Euphonium the time it needs to play out its melody in full.